Oropharyngeal morphology in the basal tortoise Manouria emys emys with comments on form and function of the testudinid tongue

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Abstract

In tetrapods, the ability to ingest food on land is based on certain morphological features of the oropharynx in general and the feeding apparatus in particular. Recent paleoecological studies imply that terrestrial feeding has evolved secondarily in turtles, so they had to meet the morphological oropharyngeal requirements independently to other amniotes. This study is designed to improve our limited knowledge about the oropharyngeal morphology of tortoises by analyzing in detail the oropharynx in Manouria emys emys. Special emphasis is placed on the form and function of the tongue. Even if Manouria is considered a basal member of the only terrestrial turtle clade and was hypothesized to have retained some features reflecting an aquatic ancestry, Manouria shows oropharyngeal characteristics found in more derived testudinids. Accordingly, the oropharyngeal cavity in Manouria is richly structured and the glands are large and complexly organized. The tongue is large and fleshy and bears numerous slender papillae lacking lingual muscles. The hyolingual skeleton is mainly cartilaginous, and the enlarged anterior elements support the tongue and provide insertion sides for the well-developed lingual muscles, which show striking differences to other reptiles. We conclude that the oropharyngeal design in Manouria differs clearly from semiaquatic and aquatic turtles, as well as from other reptilian sauropsids. J. Morphol., 2011. © 2011 Wiley-Liss, Inc.

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